Raising Arizona

Raising Arizona is a 1987 American crime comedy film directed by Joel Coen, produced by Ethan Coen, and written by Joel and Ethan. It stars Nicolas Cage as H.I. "Hi" McDunnough, an ex-convict, and Holly Hunter as Edwina "Ed" McDunnough, a former police officer and Hi's wife. Other members of the cast include Trey Wilson, William Forsythe, John Goodman, Frances McDormand, Sam McMurray, and Randall "Tex" Cobb.

Raising Arizona
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Coen
Written by
Produced byEthan Coen
CinematographyBarry Sonnenfeld
Edited byMichael R. Miller
Music byCarter Burwell
Circle Films
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 13, 1987 (1987-03-13)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5.5 million[1]
Box office$29.2 million[2]

The Coen brothers set out to work on the film with the intention of making a film as different from their previous film, the dark thriller Blood Simple, as possible, with a lighter sense of humor and a faster pace.[3] Raising Arizona received mixed reviews at the time of its release. Some criticized it as too self-conscious, manneristic, and unclear as to whether it was fantasy or realism. Other critics praised the film for its originality.[4]

The film ranks 31st on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list, and 45th on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" list. Raising Arizona was released in the United States on March 13, 1987.


Convenience store robber H.I. "Hi" McDunnough and police officer Edwina ("Ed") meet after she takes his mugshots during one of his multiple stays in prison. During a later stay in prison, Hi learns that Ed's fiancé has left her, and eventually proposes to her after being released. After marrying, they move into a desert mobile home, and Hi gets a job in a machine shop. They want to have children, but Ed is infertile, and they're unable to adopt a child due to Hi's criminal record.

After learning of the "Arizona Quints", quintuplet sons born to regionally famous furniture magnate Nathan Arizona, Hi and Ed become jealous and hatch a plan to kidnap one of the babies, whom they believe to be Nathan Arizona Jr. Upon returning home with Nathan Jr., they are greeted by Hi's old cellmates Gale and Evelle Snoats, who convince Hi to shelter them after their recent escape from prison, also tempting him to return to his old life of crime. That evening, Hi has an intense nightmare of monstrous biker Leonard Smalls.

The next day, during a visit from Hi's foreman Glen and his family, Hi angrily punches Glen in the face after he suggests that he and Hi exchange wives, costing him his job. That night, Hi succumbs to the temptation to rob a convenience store while buying diapers for the baby, leading to him getting chased by police and a pack of dogs, but he manages to outrun them. When Glen returns the next day to fire Hi, he reveals that he has deduced that Hi and Ed kidnapped Nathan Jr., and threatens to turn them in unless they agree to give custody of the child to him and his wife. After Gale and Evelle overhear this conversation, they kidnap Nathan Jr. themselves, forcing Hi and Ed to band together to rescue him. Meanwhile, Leonard Smalls approaches Nathan Arizona and offers to bring back his son for $50,000, but decides to sell Nathan Jr. on the black market when Nathan Sr. refuses to pay.

Gale and Evelle grow attached to Nathan Jr., and after nearly leaving the baby behind after robbing a store, the two promise they will never give up the baby. Gale and Evelle accidentally leave Nathan Jr. behind again after robbing a bank, allowing Smalls to capture the baby before Hi and Ed arrive to rescue him. In the ensuing struggle, Ed grabs Nathan Jr. while Hi holds Smalls back, and ultimately manages to kill him by pulling the pin on one of the hand grenades on his jacket.

Feeling remorseful for their actions, Hi and Ed sneak into the Arizona home to return Nathan Jr. to his parents, but they're caught by Nathan Sr. before they can sneak back out. After learning why Hi and Ed took his son, Nathan sympathizes with their predicament and decides not to turn them in, advising them to "sleep on it" when he learns that Hi and Ed are considering splitting up.

In the final scene, as Hi lies down to sleep beside Ed, he has a series of prophetic dreams about the future fates of his friends: Gale and Evelle willingly return to prison after realizing that they aren't ready to return to society, Glen is ticketed by a Polish-American police officer after offending him with "one Pollack joke too many", and Nathan Jr. eventually becomes a football star after getting a football for Christmas from "a kindly couple who wish to remain unknown". The dream ends with an elderly couple (implied to be Hi and Ed) enjoying a holiday visit from a large family of children and grandchildren.



Casting and conceptionEdit

The Coen Brothers started working on Raising Arizona with the idea to make it as different as possible from their previous film, Blood Simple, by having it be far more optimistic and upbeat.[5] The starting point of scriptwriting came from the idea of the character of Hi, who has the desire to live a regular life within the boundaries of the law.[5] To create their characters' dialect, Joel and Ethan created a hybrid of local dialect and the assumed reading material of the characters, namely, magazines and the Bible.[5] In contrast to Blood Simple, the characters in Raising Arizona were written to be very sympathetic.[5] The Coens wrote the character Ed for Holly Hunter.[5] The character of Leonard Smalls was created when the Coen Brothers tried to envision an "evil character" not from their imagination, but one that the character would have thought up.[5] His name is widely thought to be a reference to the character of Lennie Small, from John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men.[citation needed] John Goodman was drawn to characters of "great feeling, [guys] who could explode or start weeping at any moment"[6] and became a frequent collaborator following his performance as Gale Snoats. The script took three and a half months to write.[5]

The film was influenced by the works of director Preston Sturges and writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor (who was known for her Southern literature; “She also has a great sense of eccentric character,” Ethan Coen told one interviewer).[5] Joel and Ethan showed the completed script to Circle Films, their American distributor for Blood Simple. Circle Films agreed to finance the movie.[5] The Coens came to the set with a complete script and storyboard.[5] With a budget of just over five million dollars, Joel Coen noted that "to obtain maximum from that money, the movie has to be meticulously prepared".[5]


Raising Arizona was shot in ten weeks. Many crew members who had worked with Joel and Ethan on Blood Simple returned for Raising Arizona, including cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, co-producer Mark Silverman, production designer Jane Musky, associate producer and assistant director Deborah Reinisch, and film composer Carter Burwell.[5]

The relationship between actor Nicolas Cage and the Coens was respectful, but turbulent. When he arrived on-set, and at various other points during production, Cage offered suggestions to the Coen brothers, which they ignored. Cage said that "Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I've learned how difficult it is to accept another artist's vision. They have an autocratic nature."[7] Randall "Tex" Cobb also gave the Coens difficulty on set, with Joel noting that "he's less an actor than a force of nature ... I don't know if I'd rush headlong into employing him for a future film."[7]


Raising Arizona was initially released in the US, three dates; A New York City premiere on March 6, 1987, a limited release on March 13, 1987 and a nationwide release on April 17, 1987. The film was also released in Argentina on March 25, 1987 before it was screened out of competition at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[8]

Despite the cult following of their later films, such as The Big Lebowski, in 2000 Ethan Coen described their second feature as "the last movie [we] made that made any significant amount of money".[9]


David Denby of New York wrote that the film was a "deranged fable of the New West" which turned "sarcasm into a rude yet affectionate mode of comedy".[10] Richard Corliss of Time referred to the film as "exuberantly original".[10] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave a positive review, stating that it was "the best kidnapping comedy since last summer's Ruthless People".[11] On the film review television show Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, critic Gene Siskel said the film was as "good looking as it is funny" and that "despite some slow patches" he recommended the film, giving it a "thumbs up".[12] Writing for The New Yorker, Pauline Kael wrote that "Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm".[13]

According to the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of 57 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "A terrifically original, eccentric screwball comedy, Raising Arizona may not be the Coens' most disciplined movie, but it's one of their most purely entertaining."[14] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[16]

Negative reviews focused on a "style over substance" view of the film. Variety wrote, "While [Raising Arizona] is filled with many splendid touches and plenty of yocks, it often doesn't hold together as a coherent story."[17] Writing for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Like Blood Simple, it's full of technical expertise but has no life of its own ... The direction is without decisive style."[18] Julie Salamon of the Wall Street Journal wrote that the Coen Brothers "have a lot of imagination and sense of fun—and, most of all, a terrific sense of how to manipulate imagery," but "by the end, the fun feels a little forced."[19] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote that "the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of Hee Haw directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles".[20] Roger Ebert wrote a negative review, stating the film "stretches out every moment for more than it's worth, until even the moments of inspiration seem forced. Since the basic idea of the movie is a good one and there are talented people in the cast, what we have here is a film shot down by its own forced and mannered style."[21]

Later writings about the film have been generally positive. Both the British film magazine Empire and film database Allmovie gave the film five stars, their highest ratings.[22][23] Allmovie's Lucia Bozzola wrote, "Complete with carefully modulated over-the-top performances from the entire cast, Raising Arizona confirmed the Coens' place among the most distinctive filmmakers to emerge from the 1980s independent cinema", while Caroline Westbrook of Empire declared it a "hilarious, madcap comedy from the Coen brothers that demonstrates just why they are the kings of quirk".[23] Bilge Ebiri considers Raising Arizona to be "the Coens' masterpiece — their funniest movie, and quite possibly their most poignant as well".[24] The Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland placed its bank robbery scene second on their list of "the 5 best bank robberies in film history", behind a bank robbery scene from the 1995 thriller Heat.[25] Actor Simon Pegg described the film as "a living, breathing Looney Tunes cartoon" during a BFI screening.[26] Pegg's friend and frequent collaborator Edgar Wright has stated that Raising Arizona is his favorite film of all time. Likewise, Spike Lee put Raising Arizona on his "Essential Films" list.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute:


Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Soundtrack album by
GenreFilm score
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Coen brothers film soundtracks chronology
Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Miller's Crossing

The score to Raising Arizona is written by Carter Burwell, the second of his collaborations with the Coen brothers. The sounds are a mix of organ, massed choir, banjo, whistling, and yodeling.

Themes are borrowed from the "Goofing Off Suite", originally recorded by Pete Seeger in 1955, which includes an excerpt from the Chorale movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and "Russian Folk Themes and Yodel". Credited musicians for the film include Ben Freed (banjo), Mieczyslaw Litwinski (Jew's harp and guitar), and John R. Crowder (yodeling). Holly Hunter sings a traditional murder ballad, "Down in the Willow Garden", as an incongruous "lullaby" during the film.[29]

Selections from Burwell's score to Raising Arizona were released on an album in 1987, along with selections from the Coens' sole previous feature film, Blood Simple. The tracks from Raising Arizona constitute the first ten tracks on a 17-track CD that also features selections from the Blood Simple soundtrack.

  1. "Introduction – A Hole in the Ground" – (0:38)
  2. "Way Out There (Main Title)" – (1:55)
  3. "He Was Horrible" – (1:30)
  4. "Just Business" – (1:17)
  5. "The Letter" – (2:27)
  6. "Hail Lenny" – (2:18)
  7. "Raising Ukeleles" – (3:41)
  8. "Dream of the Future" – (2:31)
  9. "Shopping Arizona" – (2:46)
  10. "Return to the Nursery" – (1:35)

AllMusic gave the album a rating of       (4.5 out of 5).[30]


  1. ^ "10 Law-Abiding Facts About Raising Arizona". Mental Floss. March 2, 2016. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  2. ^ "Raising Arizona (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  3. ^ Chapman King, Lynnea (2014). "The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia", p.163. Rowman & Littlefield, Washington DC. ISBN 081088576X
  4. ^ Adams, Jeffrey (2015). The Cinema of the Coen Brothers pp. 32-33. Columbia University Press, New York City, NY. ISBN 0231174616
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Allen, William Rodney (2006). The Coen Brothers: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series). University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1578068894.
  6. ^ Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW PRESS. p. 52.
  7. ^ a b Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW PRESS. p. 54.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Raising Arizona". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-25.
  9. ^ Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW PRESS. p. 104.
  10. ^ a b Russell 2001, pp. 44
  11. ^ Kempley, Rita (March 20, 1987). "'Raising Arizona' (PG-13)". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  12. ^ "At the Movies: Raising Arizona". At the Movies. ABC Domestic Television. 1987. Retrieved 2009-06-04.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Manypeeplia Upsidownia". The New Yorker: 81. 20 April 1987. Archived from the original on 1 November 2014. Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm. The sunsets look marvelously ultra-vivid, the pain doesn't seem to be dry – it's like opening day of a miniature golf course.)
  14. ^ Raising Arizona at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: April 8, 2020.
  15. ^ "Raising Arizona Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  16. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  17. ^ "Raising Arizona Review". Variety. 1987. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  18. ^ "FILM: 'RAISING ARIZONA,' COEN BROTHERS COMEDY". The New York Times: C24. 11 March 1987. Archived from the original on 24 May 2015. Like Blood Simple, it's full of technical expertise but has no life of its own... The direction is without decisive style.)
  19. ^ Wall Street Journal. 26 March 1987. These fraternal film makers have a lot of imagination and sense of fun — and, most of all, a terrific sense of how to manipulate imagery... But sometimes they seem to be getting too big a kick out of their own shenanigans. By the end, the fun feels a little forced.) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ The Chicago Tribune. 20 March 1987. Quickly and fatally, the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of "Hee Haw" directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles.) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "Raising Arizona Review". Chicago Sun Times. 1987. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  22. ^ "Raising Arizona > Review". Allmovie. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  23. ^ a b "Empire Reviews Central". Empire. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  24. ^ Ebiri, Bilge (February 5, 2016). "Every Coen Brothers Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best". New York Media. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  25. ^ Porcelijn, Max (2008-04-26). "The 5 Best Bank Robberies in Film History". Vrij Nederland. pp. 96–97.
  26. ^ "Raising Arizona". BFI. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on January 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  28. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  29. ^ Rowell, Erica (2007). The brothers Grim: the films of Ethan and Joel Coen. Scarecrow Press. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-8108-5850-3.
  30. ^ Raising Arizona/Blood Simple (Original Motion Picture Soundtracks) at AllMusic

Further readingEdit

  • Adams, Jeffrey (2015). The Cinema of the Coen Brothers: Hard Boiled Entertainments. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231174619.
  • King, Lynnea Chapman (2014). The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0810885769.

External linksEdit